My thoughts on the TEDxWestLafayetteHS event this Saturday.
We live in a world that sees facts as important and stories as entertainment.
Through schools and the media and everything in between, we’re drilled into our heads that rational decisions only stem from evaluating facts and unobjectionable truths, free from bias. We tell ourselves that we debate with evidence. We tell ourselves that we’re logical. We tell ourselves that we owe our successes to the triumph of math over myth, the victory of logic over legend.
I mean, if you’re building the next rocket to Mars or running a trillion-dollar particle accelerator project, yeah sure, you’re probably using logic pretty well. Unless you’re a certain businessman with a characteristic name, you’re probably pretty logical when it comes to things that matter. (You know, like not completely wrecking human decency *ahem*)
Information matters, and so do facts. But they only matter when we share them, when we can do cool and useful stuff with them to enact changes and tell other people why recycling matters or why climate change is happening or why Muslim refugees aren’t actually any more of a threat to the fabric of American life than a bag of peanuts. Facts are cool, because they’re true.
Although facts and their correctness are still important, to share them, to make them more powerful by amplifying information through more people, I think stories are still the best tools we have. I think fact and fiction are, rather than the ends of a spectrum, partners in crime. One can’t really do its job without the other.
There’s a reason people don’t like reading history texts but swear by Hamilton. There’s a reason the best-selling books are often fiction. There’s a reason, when great speakers give talks, they often lead with anecdotes, not statistics. Even though we know information is pretty important, by nature, we pay more attention to something if it tells a story, if there’s something happening to relate to rather than something to process. Ironically, the most effective way to communicate facts is by fiction, by telling stories, because stories matter more to how we experience the world than numbers or legal briefs or peer-reviewed papers.
This is why I love TED Talks. Even though it’s grown way beyond its founding topics of Technology, Entertainment, and Design, there’s still a common theme that ties TED Talks together and makes them stand out against an ocean of bland lectures: each of them tells a unique, interesting story that shares why a topic or a key discovery is important.
“The “magic ingredient” that made each TED presentation so captivating was that each of the speakers had mastered the art of storytelling.” — Kevin Kruse, Forbes
So when Jenny and Arjun mentioned the idea of hosting an independent TEDx conference at our own high school, I was excited to jump right in and help out, and I’m pretty pumped for it still. We might not have tens of thousands of attendees or have the world’s eyes upon us, but each of our speakers still have a unique, important story to tell, and through the stories, an important idea worth spreading.
I really like the idea of creating a sanctuary where fact and fiction and mix together in the middle of a building where facts are so often pitched as the tool to override fiction. In an information world, we still need places where we can tell stories that spark a change, and I’m excited we can create one here, at West Side.